Cellphone video captured by Sandra Bland of her own controversial 2015 traffic stop and arrest emerges
New cellphone footage of the now infamous traffic stop of Sandra Bland reveals what happened on that day from her perspective when a Texas state trooper pointed a Taser at her and yelled: "I will light you up!" 28-year-old Bland was found dead just three days later in her jail cell in Waller County near Houston. Her death was ruled as a suicide. The new video adds more suspicion that officials withheld evidence in her controversial arrest and subsequent death.
WFAA reported that, up until this point, the trooper's dashcam footage was believed to be the only recording to the traffic stop in July 2015. The trooper had claimed that he feared for his safety during the stop.
The new 39-second footage shot by Bland on her phone was with investigators until the Investigative Network obtained it after the criminal investigation closed. Bland's furious family said that they have never seen the video before and are now calling for officials in Texas to re-examine the criminal case against state trooper Brian Encinia, in a case that caused national outrage.
When shown the video, Bland's sister Shante Needham said: "Open up the case, period." The family members believe that the video had been withheld on purpose. Needham said: "We also know they have an extremely, extremely good cover-up system."
Texas Department of Public Safety officials have since said that the video was not withheld. The DPS said in a statement: "The premise that the video was not produced as a part of the discovery process is wrong. A hard drive containing copies of 820 Gigabytes of data compiled by DPS from its investigation, including the dashcam videos, jail video footage and data from Sandra Bland’s cell phone, was part of discovery."
The clip begins at the most dramatic moment of the July 2015 traffic stop near Prairie View A&M University: Encinia opens Bland's car door and draws his stun gun as she tries to steady her phone's camera. The flashlights on the stun gun flick on and Encinia yells, "Get out of the car! I will light you up. Get out!"
Bland exits the car and continues to record Encinia as he orders her onto the sidewalk. The stun gun is still pointed at her and the flashlights remain on. He instructs her to get off the phone, to which Bland replies, "I'm not on the phone. I have a right to record. This is my property." The video ends seconds later after Encinia tells her to put the phone down.
KHOU reported that the emergence of the cellphone video raised questions about who had seen it until now. Cannon Lambert, an attorney for the Bland family who settled lawsuits against the state and county jail that totaled nearly $2 million combined, said he never saw the clip until it was recently shared by a reporter.
Lambert said he didn't see the video in evidence turned over by investigators, which he said he wanted to believe was just human error. Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman, who in 2017 carried the 'Sandra Bland Act' that the family criticized for being weakened before signed as a law, said on Monday night he would look into why Bland's family never saw the footage. "It is troubling that a crucial piece of evidence was withheld from Sandra Bland's family and legal team in their pursuit of justice," Coleman said in a statement.
Encinia, who was fired after being indicted for perjury over the traffic stop, said he came to fear for his safety after stopping Bland for failing to signal a lane change. "The video makes it abundantly clear there was nothing she was doing in that car that put him at risk at all," Lambert said. The perjury charge was later dropped in exchange for Encinia agreeing to never work in law enforcement again.
That Bland was holding up a cellphone is clear in the original dashcam footage. Chip Lewis, Encinia's attorney, said the cellphone footage doesn't illuminate anything beyond what the dashcam video already showed.
He said "furtive gestures" made by Bland from inside her car presented a risk and was the impetus for Encinia trying to remove her. "From a law enforcement standpoint, it had nothing to do with her being agitated as you may have seen on her recording," Lewis said.
With AP inputs.